Impasse Developing Between State and Counties Over Juvenile Detention Costs
FlaglerLive | June 9, 2014
A years-long dispute over how to split the costs of detaining youthful offenders appears no closer to being settled after the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice held a rule-making hearing Friday with representatives of more than three dozen Florida counties, including Flagler.
“We think there was some encouraging dialogue on some of the smaller stuff,” said Cragin Mosteller of the Florida Association of Counties. “But unfortunately, where we’re really apart — which equals about $24 million a year, it’s a big number — I’m not sure that we’re going to get there.”
DJJ held Friday’s hearing after 19 counties successfully argued in court that the state was placing too much of the burden for juvenile detention on local taxpayers. In June 2013, the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld an administrative law judge’s ruling that DJJ had shifted a larger share of the costs to the counties than the law required.
The counties have been paying 75 percent of the costs, while DJJ has maintained in court that the Legislature actually intended for counties to pay 89 percent.
After the appeals court rejected that argument, lawmakers took up the question this year, but a measure creating a 50-50 split died on the last day of session over the counties’ insistence that the bill include $140 million in reimbursement for past overcharges.
With the failure of the bill, the department plans to use a formula that will lead to counties paying 57 percent of juvenile-detention costs, while the state pays 43 percent.
“We have no other position but to object” to that formula, Lisa Hurley of the Florida Association of Counties said Friday.
The dispute centers on DJJ’s handling of a 2004 law that requires counties to help pay for “pre-disposition” — costs associated with juveniles waiting for their cases to be resolved in court. The state pays the costs for “post-disposition.”
But the counties have argued that DJJ misinterpreted the formula by requiring them to pay for detaining juveniles who violated probation, for instance, and by counting those days of detention as “pre-disposition” costs.
DJJ chief of staff Jason Welty said the department’s hands are tied from a policy standpoint, because the Legislature writes the law.
“The law specifically says that the counties are responsible for the period of time prior to final court disposition,” Welty said. “So from that standpoint, we have to do something that defines what that final court disposition is, because the Legislature doesn’t define it. And so that becomes our responsibility. So our hands are tied to the system as it is, as it currently stands.”
The dispute affects 38 of Florida’s 67 counties. The poorest 29 counties are considered “fiscally constrained” and aren’t part of the cost-sharing formula. For Friday’s hearing, most of the affected counties had representatives in the crowded DJJ conference room or on the phone. Many also submitted detailed objections.
The counties are insisting that “pre-disposition” costs not include any secure detention day after a juvenile has been sentenced to commitment, placed on probation or is waiting for release after a charge is dismissed.
“Obviously the counties do have a fundamental difference of opinion of the pre-(disposition) and post-(disposition) issue, and that’s going to be the one thing that’s probably going to be at a stalemate,” Welty said. “But I think there are other issues that the counties brought up that we can certainly take under consideration and make some modifications.”
Mosteller predicted the counties would be back in court if the definition of “pre-disposition” isn’t changed in the new rule.
“When the government and the state, Tallahassee, ties (the counties’) hands to how they spend that money, they can’t spend it at home,” she said. “They have to spend it the way the state says, and right now we think that is in a way that violates the law, quite simply.”
Welty said he expected the department to take several weeks to come up with a new draft of the rule, then hold another hearing.
–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida